Customers Last

These customer-service losers will shock absolutely no one.

After weeks of researching great customer-experience companies, we couldn't help but wonder about the rotten ones, too. Admittedly, our efforts were hardly scientific: We simply asked readers who took our customer-experience survey to name names. By soliciting complaints from our 1,700 respondents, we hoped to get some broad sense of which companies consistently rubbed them the wrong way.

The top three offenders? Wal-Mart, Cingular, and Sprint PCS, in that order.

Wal-Mart's appearance (along with other big-box retailers, such as Home Depot at No. 4) wasn't too shocking. Something about shopping in a warehouse doesn't quite compare to sitting in a cozy Starbucks sipping a mocha-latte-cino while lapping up Brazilian jazz. The chief complaint was that employees are unhappy, unhelpful, and impossible to find (but the prices are great!).

Wireless companies--surprise!--didn't win much love, either. Though Cingular and Sprint PCS came up most often, no company in this category was immune from some tale of call-center woe. Sure, there was the usual grouchiness about confusing contracts and difficulty changing service. But what struck us was how respondents seemed to regard lousy customer service in this industry as a fact of life. The typical comment ran something like this: "[Wireless company]. Need I say more?"

Beyond big-boxers and wireless companies, we saw plenty of the usual suspects: airlines, cable operators, and computer makers. Perhaps the most surprising thing we found was that, well, there were no surprises. The companies singled out for lousy customer experience mostly jibed with our own experience (or at least others' horror stories). In other words, bad news travels fast and wide. Once you get a rep for lousy service, it's awfully hard to turn things around.

See the full 2005 Customers First Awards.

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